Bahamas Gov't Requires Full Vaccination for Cruise Passengers

The beachfront at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private port of call in the Bahamas (David Rowley / CC BY SA 2.0)

Published Aug 19, 2021 11:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

In an emergency order issued Thursday, the government of the Bahamas said that it will no longer allow cruise ships to enter its ports if they carry unvaccinated passengers. 

The declaration, released under the Bahamas customs agency's emergency powers, will require every cruise ship master to send a passenger manifest to a Bahamian port medical officer for review. The manifest must include the vaccination status of every person on board. For the ship to gain entry to the port, all passengers 12 years of age or older must have been fully vaccinated prior to embarking at the start of the voyage (except for those who are ineligible for the vaccine for medical reasons). 

The order explicitly covers "private stops" - the private-island ports of call operated by cruise lines for their own use, like Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay and Disney's Castaway Cay. These facilities are isolated from the Bahamian public, though some employ Bahamian nationals. 

The order does not apply to crewmembers, contractors or non-revenue passengers, who are covered by previous agreements between cruise lines and the government of the Bahamas. The rule will take effect on September 3, and it will be in force through at least November 1.

On Thursday, Royal Caribbean changed its vaccination policies for Florida-based cruises on or after September 1 (along with several voyages in late August). To comply with legal requirements in the Bahamas and in St. Thomas, passengers departing on Royal Caribbean cruises out of Florida will have to obtain full vaccination before boarding. The policy adds to the line's existing vaccination requirements for departures from Washington State, Texas, New Jersey, the UK and the EU. 

Disney Cruise Line, which has pinned its restart plans on one-call sailings to its private port in the Bahamas, says that it "strongly encourages" but does not require vaccination, according to its current online guidelines. 

A court fight over a Florida state ban on vaccine passports could affect the cruise lines' ability to comply with the Bahamian order. A Florida law banning all businesses from requiring their customers to show proof of vaccination has been temporarily suspended by a federal judge, allowing Norwegian Cruise Line to move ahead with the first fully-vaccinated cruises from PortMiami; the state has appealed the decision and plans to dispute it in court.